Friday Five Interview: Thom Rainer
Do Christians take their church membership seriously? This Christian leader doesn't think so.

For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Thom Rainer.

Thom is the President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee, and is the author of several books, including Simple Church, which was the 2007 Christianity Today Book Award winner in the Church/Pastoral Leadership category. His blog, and podcast, Rainer on Leadership, are popular sources of church leadership content. His latest book is I Am a Church Member.

Today we chat with Thom about leadership, Millennials, and why he is concerned about the state of church membership.

You have served both as a pastor and as an executive for large Christian organizations. What is your most important principle of leadership?

Without a doubt, the single most important principle of leadership is that all other principles are meaningless if the leader does not have strong character. Some of the smartest, best educated, and most creative leaders have not ultimately led successfully because they had significant character flaws.

In your latest book, I Am A Church Member, you give guidelines for what "faithful church membership" looks like. Does the average Christian understand his or her responsibility as a church member?

No. We have failed to communicate the biblical tenets of church membership. For the typical church member, membership means rights and perks. But the biblical concept of membership means that we serve, we forsake our preferences, and we seek unity in the body. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul reminds us that every member has a role, and every member is to function and serve. In 1 Corinthians 13, he reminds us that we offer this service on the basis of sacrificial and unconditional love.

You've written quite a bit about Millennials. Many cultural observers are critical of this generation, but you are hopeful, particularly about millennial Christians. Why is that?

The small minority of Millennials who are Christians, probably about 15%, are dead serious about their faith. Because they are so vastly outnumbered by non-Christians, they cannot relax in a comfortable cultural Christianity. This generation of Christians will not settle for business as usual. I would not be surprised if God uses these young people to be the instruments of a new awakening in our nation.

If you could give one piece of advice today to a young pastor or church planter, what would it be?

Never forget your biblical priorities: be a person of prayer and in the Word; love and give time to your family; and love your congregation, even when they are not very loving themselves.

August 30, 2013

Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments


September 03, 2013  3:55pm

Thank you for this reminder. I recently finished the 9Marks book, The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love. It was all about church membership and discipline. I find it to be so upsetting that so many Christians not only cannot, but don't even think to commit to a local congregation.

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September 03, 2013  3:02pm

So Thom and many other saints have observed a large lack of ownership and heart connection between believers and their local church institution. No doubt he has noticed this is an issue across the country and in every brand name in probably 100% of churches. I'm sure there are some saints in some churches that feel their church is not this way. Yet if they did a survey they would find 50% of the saints not serving anywhere and 80% of the giving being done by 20% of the saints. Few churches will tell the truth about these realities because it is such a downer to the heart. They just pump up "God is doing great things in our church!!!" According to the reviews of Thom's books on Amazon, he seeks to establish discipleship as the core ministry of the church. He is right about that, but is unable to show that key elements of the system are to blame. Isn't it not considered insanity to seek to do the same thing and expect to get different results? Isn't it not considered futile to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic? If you keep systemic one-way communication by only a hired expert dominating what is called "worship", the saints will be forever unequipped in two way communication. Saints cannot fulfill their identity as "members of one another" without one another communication dominating church life. You cannot make disciples without two way communication. If you keep the systemic element where saints are consuming 75 -85% of the "giving" to buy hired experts & special facilities for a crowd of people, their hearts will be focused on themselves. Where your treasure goes is where your heart will go. With these 2 systemic elements in place, church will be a 1 day a week reality at a separate location from the rest of life with the hired experts being the responsible parties. That is what we see. That is what will continue if the system stays the same. Someone has said, "the greatest danger is not that we will renounce our faith but that we will settle for a mediocre version of it." The pulpit and pew system trains saints in mediocre everything in contrast to God's design for a supernatural expression of His son. Men are interpreting their "calling" through the lens of tradition, not the lens of God's revelation. "God gave some to be... pastors and teachers" does not mean God gave some to lecture the word to the saints every week of their lives till they die.

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